As part of my ongoing effort to see how stimulus funds are impacting people across the state, I landed in the most unlikely of places: a bookstore. But this was no ordinary bookstore that received a stimulus grant. This was More Than Words, a small bookstore and cafe on a busy street in Waltham that is run by and for the benefit of teens who were getting off track in their lives.
Devon greeted me when I came in and made me a great cup of tea. He also told me his story. He had been involved in gangs and was getting into a lot of fights. Eventually he was arrested and his probation officer pointed him in the direction of More Than Words.
"I realized I needed to take charge of my life," Devon, who is 18, told me. "More Than Words gave me a job, they gave me business point of views and they gave me a perspective on college."
Devon works at More Than Words about 20 hours a week as does Francis who accompanied us on our tour of the store and its inner workings. Francis told me that he was also got into trouble as a teen. He was arrested a bunch of times and finally his probation officer told him to apply to More Than Words. "He told me it was a good way to get my life on track," Francis told me. "I was tired of getting into trouble," he added.
The youth who work at More Than Words don't just stand behind a counter selling books. As Jodi Rosenbaum, the very energetic executive director of the program told me, the kids learn every aspect of the business from filling orders (they sell books online too) to increasing revenue to creating displays. There are staff meetings every Wednesday and the teens are part of every financial decision.
Jodi and her staff expect great things from these youth and it appears they deliver. They are expected to get to work on time, dress appropriately and meet with transition counselors who help them find their direction in life. The big question that the youth at More Than Words are expected to keep in mind at all times is "What, exactly, are you trying to accomplish?"
Francis is now in the process of taking his GED. After he finishes, he told me he wants to go back to school. He credits More Than Words with, among other things, learning that he has to take charge of his life. Devon told me he wants to work with his hands. He has applied to Bunker Hill Community College and will either go to the computer networking program or the electrician's program. He also might become an auto mechanic. Devon's inspiration and his driving force is one we can all understand. "I don't want my children to go through what I went through," he said. "I want them to know they can go to school and get a good job."
I have no doubt that they will.